The wealthy family that chose a beggar for a daughter-in-law.

Told by Yang Xiu-gong.


The Chinese, Yi and Miao lived together in the same areas of Yunnan and Guizhou, but, though they constantly met in markets and elsewhere, and were interdependent to some degree, they lived in their separate communities, retaining their own customs and traditions. This is a Miao story, told by a Miao for Miao listeners, but the main characters are all Chinese and are, accordingly, portrayed behaving as Chinese. Under the domination of the Chinese mistress of the household, such Miao as appear in the story, themselves become virtually Chinese. In this connection the following points are note-worthy.

The consultation with the soothsayer, doubtless a Taoist priest, in selecting a suitable wife for their son would have been quite normal in a Chinese family, but not among the Miao.

Beggars figure largely in this story, but always with the prefix "Chinese". The reason for this was that, though among the Miao there was much abject poverty and even destitution, professional mendicancy just did not exist, whereas it was widespread in Chinese society. There were no Miao beggars.

A Chinese family might very well own its own land, and therefore be in a position to sell an outcrop of rock to prospectors. Miao families did not own their land and so could not have made such a sale.

In the story the woman’s first husband took to gambling, an activity extremely common in the Chinese community, but not among the Miao, if only because few Miao had sufficient money to engage in it.

The costly celebration of the birthday of the ageing head of a well-to-do Chinese family was not unusual, but it was not practised among the Miao.

Ostentatious distribution of largess to an assemblage of beggars was entirely in character for a wealthy Chinese family, as an exercise for accumulating merit for the hereafter, but it did not fit into the very different pattern of Miao religious belief.

Literal Transcription

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